From the 1980s onward, green has symbolized the embrace of jungles and wetlands and owls and dolphins as well as people. But even green has started to feel too limited. It’s now a subset of blue, which is coming to denote the much larger emerging new spirit of good-citizen ethics.
Environmentally, blue (denoting water) is becoming as big an issue as green (forests). The era of apparently limitless clean water supplies is ending. All over the world groundwater aquifers are getting depleted or becoming salinated. Rivers are facing overexploitation, pollution and silting. Oil spills, floating garbage, industrial pollution and algae blooms are impacting seas everywhere.
A recent report from the International Water Management Institute says that if today’s food production and environmental trends continue, water crises are likely to crop up in many parts of the world. Craig Donohue, chief executive of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, predicts that water could become a commodity on futures exchanges in much the same way as carbon emissions are traded today.
As it stands, hundreds of millions in the developing world have no clean water. Soon millions more in the developed world won’t be able to take clean water for granted either. Water management and conservation will rise up the agendas of governments and corporations around the world.
Water just might become the next oil. Yet there’s one key difference between the two precious commodities: While there are some alternatives to oil, there’s no alternative to water.
Beyond the water crisis, “blue” is becoming more prevalent in our consciousness. Take nature documentaries, the consumer agenda-setters of environmentalism. One of the first notable natural history series of the 21st century was The Blue Planet, produced by the BBC in conjunction with the Discovery Channel. It explored the oceans, which cover two-thirds of the planet, and put the notion of “environment” into a broad context for viewers. It played to audiences that were becoming increasingly familiar with satellite images of weather systems sweeping in from the blue of the seas.
Then in August 2005, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the United States got more people thinking about the environment on a big scale. Politicians and programmers started taking a serious interest in far-off glaciers and ice sheets, and the media was filled with images of blue-white ice framed by clear blue skies and icy blue sea.
Climate change has quickly become the driver of environmentalism 2.0, and consumers all over the world understand that climate is all about the seas and the sky—both blue. Environmentalism 2.0 is already a much bigger political and consumer issue than the 1.0 version, which was largely about issues such as deforestation, the ozone layer, pollution and biodiversity. And in some ways it is more immediate: While many people have never seen a rainforest, water is everywhere and conservation is more immediately actionable.
Almost unconsciously it seems, organizations and tastemakers have been tuning in to the shift from green to blue. Mercedes-Benz has patented its latest emissions-reducing technology for diesel as “Bluetec“. In the U.K., environmental specialists are favoring blue graphics and terminology, such as Level Blue Limited, a sustainability and environmental management services provider. In France, the “Pavillon Bleu” (blue flag) is awarded to towns and pleasure ports that meet all-around environmental standards, and the Blue Plan is a French-based project working toward a sustainable future for the Mediterranean.
Somehow, “blue” terminology and graphics suggest environmental responsibility in a more contemporary and credible way than “green.” It’s as if “green” became too strongly associated with “tree huggers” and the “beards and sandals” ethos of earlier environmentalism and with brands going through the motions of environmentalism (greenwashing). Now corporations embracing environmentalism can adopt “blue” without looking as though they’re jumping on the green bandwagon.
I agree with the report. Our blue planet is ill with a high fever, and there is more to saving it than plain old environmentalism. It is going to take a worldwide movement involving the whole citizenry to heal it. The good news is, all over we can see signs of citizens rising and starting to take action. Blue citizens – I just made up that word – from all walks of life. Lee Prescott at Wal-Mart, Al Gore, the Episcopal Church, eco-geeks all over the Internet, as in Do the Green Thing, U.S. Mayors, . . . All standing up for the planet, and the human race.